The king is still gone
Years ago, the late Lewis Grizzard wrote a humorous little book called "Elvis is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself."
I think about that title every time Aug. 16 rolls around.
Presley died, of a heart attack brought on by prescription drug abuse, on this date in 1977. He was 42. Overweight, lonely, missing his mother --- one speculates that the final days of Presley's life were not happy ones.
Most fans only remember Presley for the silly 50s ditties that brought him fame. Which is fine, but he had better songs --- one's that capture a bit more of his soul, of who he was as a human being.
Take the majestic "You Gave Me A Mountain," a song written by Marty Robbins that Elvis took to singing in personal appearances in the mid-1970s. It was obviously a reference to his 1973 divorce to his wife, Priscilla. When Presley nails the final note of the song, one suspects he knows what he is singing about.
Presley's hurting. And he doesn't care who knows it.
The theme began to dominate his material, evidenced by the sudden appearance of songs like "What Now, My Love," "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" and "It's Midnight" into Presley's act. No one, not Linda Thompson, not Ginger Alden and certainly not the so-called Memphis Mafia, could fill the void left behind by his wife's departure.
Elvis sought solace in pills and pancakes. We were robbed of a true poetic voice as a result.
Although I've been known to dawn a jeweled jumpsuit and sing "Promised Land" on occasion, I've often felt distanced from the throng who regularly trek to Graceland each year to hwave candles at Presley's grave. I'll leave such worship to others.
I'd rather dig out the bootleg CD of Presley's final show of the August 1974 engagement at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas ("The Desert Storm") and listen to him sing about lonely midnights and mountains he can not climb.
Or hear him recite the lyrics to Bread's underrated hit "Aubrey" while backup singer Sherrill Nielsen delivers the most haunting version of a ballad I have ever heard.
(That song boasts one of the most poetic verses to ever appear in a pop song. "I never knew her/but I loved her just the same/I loved her name," it says. And then a bit later: "And I'd go million times around the world just to say/she had been mine for a day.")
Or wince when he threatens and curses Hilton hotel staff for spreading a rumor he was "strung out" on heroin.
The moment is funny. It is also a little tragic.
So here it is 27 years later and the king is still gone. I think it hurts because part of Southern culture, heck, part of America, died with him.
Presley was the first pop superstar. And he was also virtually the only so-called "rock star" (he would have hated that term) who sang "How Great Thou Art" at his concerts and introduced his father during the show.
His fans remember him because he represents everything we wanted to be. And because he represents everything we were, or would have liked to have been.
Hail, hail, rock and roll.